Criminal Complaint Filed Regarding “Knowingly False” Attack Ads

UPDATE: Denver7 (home of Politifact Colorado) follows up, and they appear to be kind of pissed:

A state Senate candidate filed a complaint with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office over a political mailer with claims that Denver7 PolitiFact has already deemed “Pants on Fire.”

Democratic State Senate candidate Rachel Zenzinger is now asking for the district attorney’s help in alerting the voting public to the violation and preventing the group behind the flier from continuing activity during the election. That group is Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government…

On July 5, Denver7 PolitiFact checked the facts of a mailer from “Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government” that was sent in opposition of Zenzinger.

That mailer read, “Rachel Zenzinger voted to use taxpayer money on a trip to China…”

“While serving in the city council, Rachel Zenzinger voted to use tax dollars to take a taxpayer funded junket to China,” the mailer said.

Denver7 PolitiFact rated the mailer, “Pants on Fire,” the worst rating because the statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

At this point, what else can she do? Calling in the law seems to be the only recourse against an assailant immune to shame.


We’ve been discussing in this space on a regular basis what we’ve called “The Most Knowingly False Campaign Advertisement” of the 2016 election cycle. Democrat Rachel Zenzinger has been the target of these false claims — for two years — as she seeks to unseat state Sen. Laura Waters Woods in SD-19:


The Democratic Senate Campaign Fund announced in a press release moments ago a criminal complaint against Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government over the mail piece we wrote about yesterday–falsely alleging that Democratic SD-19 candidate Rachel Zenzinger had “voted to use taxpayer money on a trip to China” while serving as an Arvada city councillor. Republicans have continued to make these false caims even after a July fact-check by Politifact Colorado that rated the allegation “Pants on Fire.”

Supporters of Sen. Laura Woods could be facing a first-degree misdemeanor charge after the group sent out a mailer in which they falsely claim that Rachel Zenzinger took a personal trip to China using taxpayer money.

Zenzinger has brought charges for the false ad to the District Attorney’s office for investigation. Woods supporters, who have knowingly dispersed a false statement about a candidate for public office, could face a first-degree misdemeanor according to CRS 1-13-109. The flier is a revival of a two-year-old, thoroughly debunked fabrication, but this latest flier contains discriminatory imagery against Asian Americans.

“Laura Woods and her backers know Rachel Zenzinger voted in opposition to public monies being used for any trip of this kind. But now Laura Woods and her backers are using racially-charged imagery, sinking to a level that would make Donald Trump proud. Laura Woods needs to disavow this ad, and apologize to the people of Senate District 19. Period. Full stop,” said Andrew Short, executive director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund.

“We are confident the District Attorney will investigate this mailer as a first degree misdemeanor against Laura Woods’ backers for producing and dispersing a knowingly false statement about a candidate for public office, which is pursuant to CRS 1-13-109,” Short continued.

In addition to the offensive imagery that includes a photoshopped traditional conical hat on Zenzinger’s head, this misleading piece actually cites Politifact — the publication gave the ad a “Pants On Fire” rating — in their assertion that Zenzinger voted to use taxpayer money to take a trip to China. The latest flier pushes even deeper into the realm of falsehood, referring to “… her trip to China”: Zenzinger has never been to China.

Laura Woods and her backers have a history of lying in political mailers, but this edition of the lying ad by Laura Woods’ backers takes the cake, with racial imagery that has to remind one of when Donald Trump used a broken English accent to mock Asian businessmen.

It’s anybody’s guess whether the Republican DA in Jefferson County will take up this investigation, but the facts of this situation point very strongly to the likelihood that this is a “knowing” false statement intended to affect an election, a crime under Colorado law. We’re not aware of a Colorado campaign persistently using a false claim like this after the fact-checkers have ruled it false, certainly not over the course of two election cycles. The long-debunked nature of this allegation, combined with this latest mailer’s use of quotes from the July fact-check debunking the previous mail piece, make it a much stronger case than any we can remember to which this law has been applied.

We’ll update with coverage as it comes in; it looks like this will be blowing up uncomfortably for local Republicans very late in the game.

5 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Early Worm says:

    The pessimist in me does not think that any DA, Republican or otherwise, is going to pursue this, especially before the election. But, to the extent it generates some much deserved negative publicity, it is a good thing.

    One question I have:  Who would be prosecuted? The CCAG is a 527 political organization, and there is nothing that I have seen that discloses who is behind it (actual humans). Courts can fine political organizations, but, given the fine schedules for a misdemeanor, CCAG is not going to care or change its behavior.  It has a registered agent, but she is an attorney, and presumably could not be compelled to disclose who her client is, beyond the entity name. 



    • BlueCat says:

      I seems to me that when something has been proven to be false, not spin or opinion, simply untrue by all objective standards, never happened, and then is recycled as if it has never been proven completely false, there has to be a defense against  such purposeful  falsehood, even in a political ad. This isn't just… so and so wants to raise your taxes when so and so doesn't or so and so doesn't care about your children.  

      This is a completely fabricated falsehood alleging a trip that never took place and which no records of any kind indicate ever took place and which those making the claim know or certainly ought to know to be untrue. The injured party is absolutely justified to pursue a criminal complaint. Holding those who publish known falsehoods as fact responsible will not stifle the democratic process. It will vastly improve it.

  2. FrankUnderwood says:

    If it can be tied back to Laura Waters Woods, I have but three words to say:


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